There are 12 Lunar Year zodiac signs, originating from the Chinese calendar. It’s based on the A lunisolar calendar is a calendar in many cultures whose date indicates both the Moon phase and the time of the solar year.
In a lunisolar calendar, the month begins at the new moon and is 29.5 days long. That creates a 354-day year, which is 11 days shorter than a 365-day year in the Gregorian or solar calendar. Various cultures deal with this differently, some adding a 13th month periodically, others having long and short months.
How the Chinese Zodiac System works:
The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme based on the lunisolar calendar, a system that uses both the moon phase and time of solar year. It’s the world’s most multicultural and “open source” calendar, used and adapted by:
- Hebrew, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and Kurdish
- Traditional Burmese, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese,
- Mongolian and Korean calendars
- Ancient Hellenic and Babylonian
The Chinese zodiac corresponds with years, not months. It assigns an animal and its traits to govern each year of a repeating 12-year cycle.
The Chinese zodiac signs are not related to constellations. Rather, they are linked to Jupiter’s orbital period around the Sun.
Jupiter takes roughly 12 years (11.85 years to be exact) to make a full trip around the Sun, passing through every sign of the Western and Lunar zodiac.
Fun fact: the word zodiac means “little circle of animals.”
The lunisolar calendar begins at the Aquarius new moon. So if you’re a January-born Capricorn, you will be the sign and element of the year prior. Aquarians born prior to the Aquarius new moon (the date of which varies from year to year).
For example, 1992 was the Year of the Water Monkey. However, the Lunar New Year began on January 25, 1992 (at the Aquarius new moon that year). So an Aquarius born on January 22, 1992, would actually be a Metal Sheep, which is the sign of people born in the 1991 Lunar Year.
The 5 Elements
In the Chinese astrology and Feng Shui systems, there are five elements (metal, water, wood, fire and earth) and each one governs a full year.
Metal: Lunar Years ending in 0 or 1
Water: Lunar Years ending in 2 or 3
Wood: Lunar Years ending in 4 or 5
Fire: Lunar Years ending in 6 or 7
Earth: Lunar Years ending in 8 or 9
This differs from the Western zodiac, which uses only four elements (fire, earth, air, water), rotating monthly in that order as the Sun progresses through the 12 Tropical zodiac signs.
Element + Animal Combinations: How the pattern works
Every “element + animal” combination repeats on a 60-year cycle. In other words, while it will take 12 years for an Ox year to repeat, it takes 60 years for a Metal Ox year to repeat. The animal will progress through the 5 elements in order, like so:
1961: Metal Ox
1973: Water Ox
1985: Wood Ox
1997: Fire Ox
2009: Earth Ox
2021: Metal Ox (and the cycle begins again)